Friday December 8th, 2023
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Panorama Picks: Mustang, A Must-See Investigation Into the Lives Of Middle Eastern Women

Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven has Egyptians talking after screening his film, Mustang, at the Panorama Film Festival. Using brilliant symbolism, Ergüven explores issues affecting women that are not often discussed in Middle Eastern cinema.

Staff Writer
Did you know that Sigmund Freud based all of his psychiatry on that one moment in our lives that we find out about sex? He thought that all our insecure behaviours link back to sexuality and what really turns us on. He was so right about adolescence and how it shapes our reactions. These very moments are when we fully become aware of the inner self, our bodies, and our being. They are what make any Egyptian newlyweds prefer to conceive a boy rather than a girl; they fear a girl may cause them disgrace and humiliation – loss of virginity. Navigating this issue in his award-winning film, Mustang, Director Deniz Gamze Ergüven draws attention to the tangled web of love and desire in the sexual awakening of teenage girls.
Part of the 8th annual Panorama of the European Film Festival here in Cairo, Mustang is a Turkish film that has made its way through the Cannes Film Festival and on to theatres in New York and Los Angeles where it has received raving reviews. Ergüven did a good job with this movie as she explored many women's issues that have gained prominence in Eastern culture. If you're someone who's well aware of world issues, you will very much enjoy this drama. The big success of this movie can be credited to the fact that all the conflicts and issues came in a patterned series, giving the viewer a chance to comprehend, feel, and relate – not like the cliché movies that put all issues together in one character to raise viewership and make sales.
It starts with five girls in the Turkish town of Mustang who are orphaned and left to be raised by their grandma and uncle. The girls are beautiful, free spirited, and they all look alike with their wavy brown hair and long legs. After finishing their school year, they go into the Black Sea with school boys to play chicken fight. While the idea of water splashing and teenagers playing makes for a joyful scene, Ergüven didn’t fail to add soft orchestral music that gave it a gloomy sense, foreshadowing for the viewer that something bad is about to happen. It turns out that a neighbour watched this joyful incident and told the girls' grandma. From this point on the shit hits the fan.
Ergüven begins to point to multiple issues that women face in Eastern societies; however, as we mentioned before, she doesn't lump all the Eastern world's supply of issues into one woman's storyline. She begins by investigating one issue at a time, the first of which is raising adolescent girls to keep their virginity. A prevalent concern in Eastern families, this issue rings particularly loud in Egypt as there is even a song in Upper Egyptian folklore that praises conceiving a boy and shames conceiving a girl, particularly for this reason. Here the issue is cast as one that affects the girls' family far more directly than it affects the girls themselves. Switching the framework, Ergüven gives us a scene in which the grandmother teaches the girls the depths of home economics, making them destined to be wives, cooks, and mothers prepared to bring up children. With the stereotypes and issues that Ergüven has developed thus far, she culminates this portion of the film with a silent scene in which the youngest sister runs after a fly trying to zap it, until she does – seen through a close-up lens, every viewer is prompted to think that this is a brilliant symbol of how we treat women in an Eastern society.
Assessing how family life affects girls in Eastern culture and, vice versa, how having daughters affects a family in such a culture, Ergüven produces parallel plot lines for each of the sisters and explores the issues that face them growing up as females in Turkey. Following each of the sisters into the perils of her world, the screenplay moves swiftly among the five stories, giving the effect of characters’ free spirits. From arranged marriages to suicides, Ergüven moves the viewer through the ups and downs of the woman's struggle in the Middle East, taking us swiftly from a wedding to a funeral and lacing the experience with a sweetly somber soundtrack
While we would love to discuss the depths of the parallel plot lines and the pressing issues they present, we won't; perhaps once we discover that all of you have seen the movie, which we highly suggest you do. What we will tell you, though, is that the depth of Ergüven's parallel plot lines, accompanied by a soundtrack and cinematography to heighten the experience, make Mustang worthy of the acclaim it received from critics in New York and Los Angeles. If that's their take on the film, you can only imagine how we feel about it here in Egypt as it touches on issues that hit closer to home than we often care to admit. Taking the stories of five women with different endings and weaving them with original poetic symbolism, we give Mustang an 8 out of 10 for being a great film de femme that captured our hearts.
To catch other amazing films screening at Panorama click here.